Booklovers Anonymous: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

In last week’s post I told you about the book Zathura, by Chris Van Allsburg. Today I am going to share another one of his books, however, this picture book is great for use with older students (I’m talking middle school and high school students) to inspire some creative writing. I stumbled upon The Mysteries of Harris Burdick in my first or second year of teaching and immediately recognized it’s potential!

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

The book begins with an introduction from Mr. Van Allsburg explaining how he stumbled across Mr. Burdick’s pictures via a friend. Apparently, each picture was created for a story that Harris Burdick was writing. He brought them to an editor was supposed to return with the rest of the stories, but instead, he disappeared. The intro on its own is enough to whet any kids appetite! From there, each of the pictures is shared on it’s own page, with the title of the story and a one sentence caption on the other page.

Harris Burdick title and caption

The titles and captions are simple, but leave enough description to get a good sense of what a story could be about. This caption for the story “Another Place, Another Time” simply states : “If there was an answer, he would find it there.” That’s it…can you just close your eyes for a minute and imagine where you could go with that? Try it!! When I do it myself I come up with so many ideas!! And that is one of the things I love about this book. You could have three kids write about the same picture, and come up with three completely different stories!!

The pictures, as usual for Van Allsburg’s books, are exquisite and inspire creative writing on their own:

Skipping stones? Maybe, maybe not!

Sometimes they feature people (usually kids) in a situation that gives just enough information to get the creative juices flowing:

This could definitely be a fun story!

Other times, the pictures are of a place:

A hidden room? Treasure? Passage to another place? You decide! That’s what creative writing is all about!

However, all of the pictures are a great idea for creative writing story starters. When I used these in my classroom, I actually bought two copies of the book. I tore out and laminated the pages from one, and hung them around the room. I read the other copy out loud to my students then I asked the kids to walk around, find their favorite picture and study it. Even my most reluctant writers enjoyed this assignment, and many of them wanted to write more than one story! The only requirements I had for their writing was that the use the title of the picture as the title of the story, and they had to work the caption into the story somewhere. Other than that, they had the freedom to go in any direction they wanted.

Now that we are homeschooling, I do generally the same thing with my boys. When we are working on creative writing, I take this book off the shelf and we read it together. Then I let my boys thumb through it on their own and choose a picture to write about. The most difficult thing is narrowing their choice down to just one! I keep The Mysteries of Harris Burdick handy and use it a lot for times when we do “light” schooling as well. You know, those busy seasons (like the holidays). I like to work lots of different styles of writing into their schooling, so we may focus on persuasive writing for a while, go on to narratives, then go back to creative writing for a little break. Over the years, my oldest son (now in 10th grade) has written about many of the pictures from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.

It’s funny how you can do so much from just a simple picture book isn’t it? So, if you have a student, younger or older, who needs some inspiration for their creative writing, I would suggest you add this book to your library. Believe me, you will use it for YEARS to come! Thanks for joining me for Booklovers Anonymous again, be sure to come back next week!

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